CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- Jon McLaughlin pointed his damaged hip -- both hips, actually -- in the right directon and the Sigourney-Keota running back trampled Sheldon's hopes for a Class 2A state football championship.
In the 2A title game Saturday morning in the UNI-Dome, the 6-2, 210-pound McLaughlin toted the football 40 times and gained 182 yards in a 27-24 win over the Orabs.
The two combatants came into the contest with perfect 12-0 records and No. 1-ranked Sigourney-Keota won despite being held to almost 25 points under its scoring average of 51.7 a game. Plus, the Cobras of Coach Bob Howard surrendered more points than in any of their previous 12 games this season.
McLaughlin, injured in the first quarter of S-K's 34-20 semifinal win over No. 2 North Fayette, played with severe pain.
"They said it was a hip-pointer, but I think it was a bad bruise at the top of one of my ankles," said McLaughlin, who also missed the season's first two games after suffering severe burns to his arms in a freak accident around a campfire. "It didn't bother me during the game. I was so keyed up and operating on adrenaline."
McLaughlin was limping noticeably after the game, however, and grimacing in pain with every step he took in the interview room in the UNI-Dome.
"Sheldon's the best team we played," added McLaughlin, who rushed for 1,609 yards despite missing almost three full games. "Nothing was easy out there. We had to earn everything we got."
The title showdown was a gripping one and laced with drama.
Sheldon scored first when junior Jacob Crowl intercepted a pass by Sigourney-Keota quarterback Kyle Bermel and returned the pick 25 yards for a touchdown with 4:25 left in the first quarter.
In what proved to be an S-K pattern, McLaughlin countered the Orab TD with a 4-yard scoring slant of his own with 39 seconds left in the opening period.
Crowl's 2-yard run helped seventh-ranked Sheldon regain the lead at 14-7 with 6:21 remaining in the second quarter, but the Keokuk County powerhouse forged a 14-14 halftime knot on the Bermel's 19-yard TD pass to Chase Greiner with 41 seconds remaining in the opening half.
Each team scored twice in the third quarter and the two slugged away without delivering a scoring punch in the final 12 minutes.
Greiner's 10-yard run pushed Sigourney to a 21-14 lead with 5:06 left in the third quarter, but Shane Still's 40-yard scamper less than two minutes later helped tie the count at 21-21.
"The play was just a 'read-option' out of our wishbone set and T.J. (Miller, the quarterback) read it perfectly," said Still, the up man in the Orab wishbone. "Nobody touched me."
Sheldon's final offensive hurrah was an historic 31-yard field goal by Raleigh St. Clair with 1:59 left in the third quarter. It was the 14th field goal of the season for St. Clair, eclipsing Iowa's all-class single-season record set in 2003 by Connor Moore of Adair-Casey, an 8-man program.
Leading 24-21 with the kick, the Orabs were gaining momentum when McLaughlin delivered a knockout blow, bolting 47 yards to score on the final play of the third quarter. A missed PAT kept Sheldon within a field goal of another tie, but neither team scored the rest of the way.
Sigourney-Keota's title was the program's fourth overall and the third under the direction of Howard, who also had champions in 1995 and 2001.
"We had a great season and nearly pulled off the upset, although our guys didn't think in terms of an upset," said Sheldon Coach Matt Meendering. "They felt they were just as good and confident they'd win. But, it didn't turn out that way.
"With their size and tricky single wing offense we felt we had to make piles at the line of scrimmage and then hope our linebackers and defensive backs could sort out the football and clean up. We felt if we could hold them to three touchdowns we could win the game."
Part of Sheldon's defensive scheme was to have tackles Tyler Lloyd (6-3, 235) and John Shea (5-8, 225) actually submarine under the S-K line blocking in an attempt to create the aforementioned piles.
"Sheldon's the most athletic team we've played and other teams have tried to submarine in the line, but I didn't think they would because they're so athletic," said Sigourney-Keota's Howard. "We got things sorted out as the game went on.
"This is a hard loss to take," said Sheldon linebacker Brian Fischer, who was credited with 14 total tackles. "They were the biggest team we've played this year, but the game could have gone either way. We're pretty even as far as I'm concerned. If we played them 10 times, we'd win at least five times."
The most pivotal play of the game came on Sheldon's final offensive possession.
Starting at its 44 after a punt with 7:27 left, the Siouxland powerhouse moved to the S-K 24. Then, after a costly five-yard penalty, Crowl's halfback pass was intercepted by 6-foot-4, 180-pound Ryne Schwenke.
Crowl, who rushed for 76 yards to lead the Orabs, took full blame for the misdirected pass.
"I just didn't throw the darn thing very well," said Crowl, who hiked his season rushing total to 1,027 yards. "I wish I could have that pass back."
Sigourney-Keota's defense limited Sheldon's leading rusher, Scott Kruger, to just 55 yards. Kruger finished his senior season with 1,256 rushing yards.